Madridista Joselu lives ‘beyond best dreams’ to take Real Madrid into final: UCL Moment of the Week

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Bayern have been up for it all game. Manuel Neuer is in the kind of form that once had you questioning if he was all human. Alphonso Davies, soon to be of this parish, has scored a scorcher to put Bayern Munich ahead. Bayern don’t give up leads late on, Thomas Tuchel’s teams don’t give up leads late on. Sure, this may be the Bernabeu , but with 81 minutes up on the clock, the only attacking subs Carlo Ancelotti could make were to bring on Brahim Diaz and… Jose Luis Mato Sanmartin. Joselu. As he sprinted onto the pitch, you could almost hear the whispers around the world. Where there once was Karim Benzema, Raul Gonzalez, Ruud van Nistelrooy, the Ronaldo (and we are not even going beyond the 2000s here)… on comes a Stoke City ‘reject’ as their centre-forward in the dying minutes of a Champions League semifinal second leg? Really?

When they announced Joselu’s signing, on loan from relegated Espanyol in June 2023, you didn’t even have to see the social media comments to infer what people thought of it. At this club, more than any other on the planet, they love their big-money signings. From the moment we’ve known of Real Madrid, that’s what you associate with them… even last summer all anyone associated with Madrid could talk about were the imminent arrival of Endrick and the very-likely arrival of Kylian Mbappe. That would be in 2024, though. What about 2023, when the only senior centre-forward on their books decided to leave to Saudi Arabia? They wanted a decent goalscorer who’d be willing to work off the bench and didn’t really cost them that much.

To the management, and the coaching staff, Joselu fit the bill to the T: at 34, this was always going to be a dream move but considering his past it was perfect. After all, Joselu had played for Real Madrid’s academy team 15 years back, was a proper Real Madrid fan (he had tweeted, back in 2012 while at Hoffenheim, if ‘someone could give a good link to see Real Madrid’), and had even been in the stands for the 2022 Champions League win, cheering them on.

In between he’d had a good, well-travelled career: back to Celta Vigo where it all started, Hoffenheim, Eintracht Frankfurt, Hannover 96, Stoke City, Deportivo La Coruna, Newcastle United, Alaves, Espanyol. He’d been through the grind, battling relegation, celebrating mid-table finishes, mattering for the local fans but the ‘problem’ was that he was also invisible for most others. You see, for the vast majority of fans, especially those of big clubs, Joselu was just one of the teeming thousands who are NPCs in their club’s stories (And that only domestically, he’d never even played the Champions League before this season). You may have a vague recollection of him at one of his clubs depending on who you support, but that’s about it. Hell, take his actual Real Madrid debut – a LaLiga game against Almeria in 2011, where he scored with his first touch off a Cristiano Ronaldo assist. That goal had been Madrid’s 8th of the game, and no one really took note of the debutant’s achievement.

Journeyman. Invisible. A footnote. And Madrid have signed him? Really?

In the 88th minute, Neuer does the unthinkable, spilling a lukewarm Vinicius Jr hit into the six-yard box in front of him. As the ball bounces out, everyone is near still – except one man. Joselu had started his run the moment Vinicius had hit the ball. He had not had a touch till then, but that was not something for him to worry about. Off the shoulder of Matthijs De Ligt he ran, well onside, in front of a jogging Eric Dier who never saw it coming. First to the loose ball, a calm nutmeg of a finish. 1-1. Madrid back level. Bedlam at the Bernabeu.

It may have appeared an easy goal, but it was the poaching instinct of Joselu that made it look so — most would have just stayed at their spot knowing Vinicius was going to shoot, but Joselu had gambled, as he always has, as he was taught to at Celta and at Castilla: if you’re a centre-forward, you make the run.

It’s this instinct that made him LaLiga’s third highest scorer last season (behind Robert Lewandowski and Benzema) despite playing for a relegated team, what has seen him score 5 goals in 10 games for Spain at a goals-per-minute ratio (59) that’s better than anyone who’s played for the national team. If you’d been looking closely, beyond the ‘small’ club stereotypes and the EAFC stats, you’d have seen that this late-blooming Joselu was, in fact, exactly the man Madrid had wanted.

Tall, an exceptional header of the ball and a proper fox-in-the-box capable of making an instant impact off the bench, he was the one profile missing from this Madrid team brimming with exciting attacking talent. This equaliser was his 16th goal in all competitions for the club (already more than his three Premier League seasons combined). He’s been all that Ancelotti asked for and more: “He’s a player who’s done a lot this season, without getting a lot of minutes,” said the manager after the match. “He’s the perfect reflection of what this squad is — players who have done a lot, never losing confidence, with the idea that they can contribute.”

After the equaliser, he wasn’t done contributing. For inside three minutes, came goal #17.

Minute 91, Madrid are Madrid-ing. It’s the Champions League and this is what they do when they sniff even a hint of blood. They’ve thrown everyone forward on a late corner, and as Luka Modric whips it in Bayern can’t clear properly. Vinicius recycles it back in, Nacho finds Antonio Rudiger who in turn whips in a first-time left-footed ball across the face of goal where… Joselu is remarkably unmarked as he twists his body to guide his third touch of the game into the back of the net. 2-1. Game done. Date set with Borussia Dortmund at Wembley.

Two goals from a collective distance of about eight yards, across 162 seconds, and Joselu had put Real Madrid into the final of the Champions League. A Madridista proving everyone wrong at this late stage of his career as he puts his team into the final of the competition they value more than any other… A dream? More than that, according to the man himself. “You always dream about this kind of performance,” Joselu said after the match. “Not even my best dreams are as good as [what happened] today.”

And so for living out a dream beyond even his best ones, Joselu takes our Moment of the UCL mid-week.



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